Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Passage to Tunisia

2011 has come with its disturbances all around the world. Revolutions and uprisings have cropped up in all shapes, colors and flowers, so have the analyses.

I skimmed through quite a number of those about the so-called Twitter triggered Jasmine revolution of Tunisia. I do not want to discredit them all because most were written by real experts when it comes to social networks but from where I stand, they fail to fulfill two important requirements:
  1. Location: For any meaningful political analysis, one has to live in the subject country for a year or two. No, weekend visits, holidays, short term stays do not count. A 5-star hotel can create miracles in the middle of nowhere; with its clockwork perfection, it is no different than living in your insert-your-favorite-city-here. On the other hand, a simple task of shopping so that you can cook your dinner home gives you a completely different perspective. Nothing is more insightful as spending some time in the country of your analysis.
  2. Language: In order to know a (any) culture closer, you have to know the language, period. A lot of subtle clues are lost during the translation, or worse, you get the picture totally wrong. Let me give you an example from my native language. Take, for instance, a simple verb like to love. When conjugated in present continuous tense, it is what it seems, you love someone. Conjugation in (simple) present, however, complicates things; most often than not, it is a warning, sometimes a threat but it rarely means liking (not loving) someone. Without knowing the context the phrase "I love you" used, it is impossible to derive anything meaningful out of it (that is why I call it the political tense, the politicians love it; it is the best aid for plausible future denial).
Satisfying neither condition, let me throw in a regional analysis so that your visit here and reading so far will not be a complete waste of time. The geography in question is a land of absolutes. There is an absolutely appropriate dress code, an absolutely perfect religion, an absolutely correct way of relationship; an abundance of absolute truths. So many absolutes rarely produce democracy.

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